Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

Summary: In a fragile world on the brink of World War II, lovely young Englishwoman Ellen Carr takes a job as a housemother at an unorthodox boarding school in Vienna that specializes in music, drama, and dance. Ellen simply wants to cook beautiful food in the homeland of her surrogate grandmother, who had enchanted her with stories of growing up in the country side of Austria.

What she finds when she reaches the Hallendorf School in Vienna is a world that is magically unconventional--and completely out of control. The children are delightful, but wild; the teachers are beleaguered and at their wits' end; and the buildings are a shambles. In short, the whole place is in desperate need of Ellen's attention.

Ellen seems to have been born to nurture all of Hallendorf; soon everyone from Leon the lonely young musical prodigy to harassed headmaster Mr. Bennet to Marek the mysterious groundsman depends on Ellen for --well, everything. And in providing all of them with whatever they need, especially Marek, for whom she develops a special attachment, Ellen is happier than she's ever been. But what happens when the menace of Hitler's reign reaches the idyllic world of the Hallendorf School gives this romantic, intelligent tale a combination of charm and power that only the very best storytellers can achieve.

My Review:

Rules for Reading (and Loving) a book.

1) Don't try to read anything in the month of December. You'll never get more than three pages read at a time. There's just too much to do and you'll never connect with the story.

2) Never read a similar book..or one by the same author..immediately after reading a book you LOVED. It will ALWAYS pale in comparison.

3) If you don't like to read about the Holocaust...don't try to make yourself. It. won't. work.

Okay. I pretty much think that the above says it all. I tried to read it. I tried to like it. It took a while and I even got pretty into it for about 60 pages. For me, not liking this book was simply a matter of taste and choice. It all goes back to a post-partum Me reading what was supposed to be a retelling of Sleeping Beauty called "Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen. It was a very good retelling but there was great deal of throwing babies into brick ovens and I swore off books even remotely related to that time period from then on. My heart quite simply cannot take it. So needless to say the time in which this book was set was a huge distraction for me. Like an irritating bug's always there. Itching.

That having been said, for those of you for whom the setting of this book is NOT a deal-breaker, I'll try to be a little less biased. "A Song for Summer" meanders its way along in a sort-of slow, comfortable fashion. The first 100 or so pages of this book are very charming, and well-written but lacked the same pull and "right away" enchantment as I've felt reading some of her other books. I really enjoyed reading Ellen's descriptions of her first views of Hallendorf and her dreams for it. The children and teachers at the school were all unique characters that were easy to picture and love (with the odd nutter among them).

I didn't really get involved in the book until about 120 pages in when the action starts (a very little) and 160 when Ellen finally starts to display a little bit of backbone. Her character up to this point seemed pretty perfect--the content, homemaker and genuinely kind individual--which lets face it, none of us are. As the threat from Nazi Germany increases, Ellen is forced to choose whether she will stay in her idyllic world or venture out in a far more dangerous attempt to help a friend. Here are the 60 or so pages where I was able to read continuously and felt sort of connected with the story. After that it kind of fell apart for me. It could have been the story. It could have been the fact that Christmas was coming and I didn't sit down for more than five minutes a day.

Ellen and Marek definitely had their moments, but the chemistry between them was inconsistent...there at times and absent at others. I'm also a huge fan of the happy ending....and I don't like being teased about it. Frequently, just as they were about to get their happy ending- time after time - it was yanked out from under them. Another little bug bite. Unfortunately, for much of this book I didn't not feel like a I was a part of it...I felt like I was reading it. Gasp. I'm sure some of you understand what I mean. I want to be completely absorbed...drawn so fully into a book, its' plot, characters, and storyline, that I actually have to blink and look around when I am forced to put it down. Alas, I did not find it with this book.

Anyway, I'm sorry this review isn't better. I don't know how qualified I am to give it because of how disconnected I felt, how busy I was, and my prejudice against the setting, so take it for what its worth. You might adore this book. Many others have.

My rating: 3 stars. (It was okay but definitely not my favorite of hers. Note: The heroine makes a decision at the end that I totally disagree with from a moral standpoint. I can't give it away. You'd kill me. But I didn't like it. )

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: I wanted to like it more than I actually did.


Heather said...

I really want to read some of her other books, as I loved "A Countess under the Stairs" so much. I will probably try this one eventually but are there any others that you would recommend?

MindySue said...

There is "A Company of Swans" and "The Morning Gift"....I'm trying COS next.

MindySue said...

and she just put out one called "the star of kazan". I haven't read any but "A Song for Summer" and "Countess .....yet.


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